Where have all the beggars gone, long time missing? Maybe the way of the tourist trinket shops.
It’s a sadly unique time to be a tourist. The streets are empty in a way that one just would not have imagined. Normally, over 60 million tourists visit Italy. Due to the pandemic, not only the international, but also the intra-country tourists, are not here. Just the Romans.
I went to the Trevi Fountain and was one of three tourists. Not that there were no people there — there were. But they were working. I went to the Pantheon (well, to the square, as the Pantheon is closed), and finally got begged from. But only from two beggars. I also wonder where the pickpockets go during this time. I did not see any of them either.
At Piazza Navona (the big rectangular one with the three fountains), I finally saw more people. Once the tourists come back, I can imagine that this square will be wall to wall with people. As it was, there were only a few hawkers and they were not too aggressive. One greeted me with a phrase from the Lion King, which did catch my attention. But, in general, the hawkers seemed fairly listless, as they saw no reason to make much effort when there are no cash cows in town. Who knew that one would miss being milked?
I have spent more than 300 nights in hotels in the past few years, and this experience has made me appreciate the joys of having a fixed home. Here are some of the experiences that I had while staying in hotels and being “on the road” for months at a time. It’s not all bad, and, it’s not all good. Even at the most expensive and fancy places.
Toe nails: There is nothing so sharp and hard as a toenail shaving. And they don’t shine like diamonds.
Beads: I have stepped on more random beads (is it Mardi Gras everywhere?) than I care to count. I suppose it’s the nature of them being round, usually small, and many.
Shampoo: All those little bottles. It gets tiresome.
Laundry: Some hotels charge $24 per shirt. There seems to be not consideration for those who stay in a hotel for more than a week, and do not have 30 changes of clothing with them. Traveling makes one miss doing laundry.
Take out: I’ve had lots of it. It can get tiresome not being able to cook for oneself.
Bored of the food: Related to the point above.
Microwave or stove: you miss a way to heat up food.
Tiny fridge: not the name of a band. Also, why? Why oh why are these tiny fridges so low to the floor?
Cameras: yup. They are everywhere.
No privacy: Living in a hotel, one is never really alone as there are constant knocks on the door.
Five years ago, I visited Lima for a weekend. My friend and her family, are my experts on Peruvian food and culture. She turned the weekend into a Peruvian food tour. Now that I have lived in Lima for a few years, here are my recommendations for a three-day food tour of Lima. Of course, if you plan your travel here around reservations at Central or Maido, then do that or go to one of the other places on my list of 100 places to try. This list is focused on showing your visitors some of the variety and best of “nueva andina” cuisine.
El Cacaotal, Jr. Colina 128A, Barranco: Closed on Sundays. Grab a coffee or hot chocolate at this premiere chocolate “library” of Peruvian fine chocolates.
Dinner (open from 7:30 p.m. except for Cosme that is open from 6 p.m. Reservations are better but not requisite. Merito does not take reservations, show up at 7:20 p.m. and stand in line)
Statera, Av. Mariscal La Mar 463: The former R&D chef at Central, who also worked at Noma, opened his own place. All the inventiveness and intellectual complexity of Central but without the prices and hype.
Cosme, Tudela Y Varela 160-162, San Isidro (the other side of the street is Miraflores): Cozy and delicious.
Jeronimo, Av. Mariscal La Mar 1209: Much of the food is not specific to Peru but it’s still delicious!
Merito, Jr. 28 De Julio 206, Barranco: Venezuelan chefs who worked at Central = haute cuisine with a Venezuelan influence.
Lunch (these cevicherias, like all traditional ceviche places, are only open for lunch and sometimes breakfast)
La Preferida, Calle Julian Arias Aragüez 698, Miraflores: This original location is very local to this upper-middle class neighborhood. No tourists.
La Picanteria, Calle Santa Rosa 388, Surquillo: Internet-famous. Lots of food tours go here. Pick the fish and have it cooked two ways. Family style eating. Also serves non-fish.
Al Toke Pez, Av. Angamos 886, Surquillo: the chef is famous for being a Ph.D. who has chosen to honor his father’s culinary tradition (his father opened Matsuei) by opening a hole-in-the-wall.
Cordanos, Jirón Ancash 202, Cercado de Lima: If you are touristing downtown, this former political moshpit near the main square, still serves atmosphere with good food.
La Isolina, Av. San Martin 101, Barranco: This place is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The owner is the son of Isolina, who opened La Red. La Isolina serves her recipes. The son has now opened Las Reyes in a tribute to his mom and her sisters (as in “the King girls”), all good cooks.
Las Vecinas, Jirón Domeyer 219, Barranco: Just down the street from La Isolina. Gluten-free, vegetarian, healthy, and all those other feel good options. Cute interior too.
No that you have done Machu Picchu, you want to do the next big thing… Kuelap, the Gocta Waterfall, and so on. Then, the question is where to stay. The secret, secret, place to stay in Gocta… no, not that one… is… Gocta Natura. But only if you like “natural” and bohemian (and no WIFI). This small organization will give you ALL the FEELS. Warm, fuzzy, friendly. Gocta Natura has five cabins in the woods overlooking the waterfall. The price is per person and they employ a gourmet chef. Like I said, ALL. THE. FEELS. You’re gonna love it. If you like rustic, eco-friendly. If not, stay at the famous Gocta Lodge hotel located up the hill behind Gocta Natura. (Note: I have not stayed at either of the Goctas. This is just based on the rave reviews of someone I know who is “in the know”.). To see the waterfall up close, you can ride a horse for part of the hike, as it may be hot and sweaty. Then, once you have seen “the nature,” you get to go back to your peaceful cabin and enjoy gourmet cuisine.
The closest village to Gocta Waterfall is Cocachimba. It’s got a village green and the village doesn’t seem to consist of more than the buildings surrounding the green. The Gocta Lodge is at the end of the village behind a high wall. To get to the Gocta Natura, you have to walk the path on the way to the waterfall. Cocachimba’s altitude is 4,000 feet above sea level, making this village a better place to sleep if you suffer from altitude sickness. Chachapoyas is at 7,600 feet (2,300 meters) and Kuelap is 10,000 (3,000 meters).
I liked the drive up to the village of Cocachimba. Amazing views and amazing coffee. All along the road, locals were drying their coffee beans on tarps spread out in front of their houses. At one of the village restaurants, I had a delicious mug of coffee. When I asked what brand they had used, they explained that it was their own coffee, from their own beans, from their own tree. They weren’t showing off.
The photo of the fighting cocks was taken at a spot along the road to Cocachimba that had a spectacular view of Gocta waterfall. When I saw the location of the cages, I wondered why the owner of that house didn’t open a B&B in that location. I would think that tourists are a better source of income… and with fewer feathers?
The hot spot to visit in Peru is still Machu Picchu. But, when you have done that, you might want to see the newest hot spot — Kuelap! Cuelap/Kuelap is located up near the town of Chachapoyas in a region called Amazonas, not to be confused with the Amazon river area. Kuelap is older than Machu Picchu and it’s not as majestic but it’s also got a few million fewer visitors (not that it felt that way!). Chachapoyas is up at 8,000 feet so be prepared to suffer for the view.
Kuelap is nearby and one can take Peru’s first cable car or “teleferico” up to the base of the archaeological site. One takes a bus to the cable car, then the 20 minute cable car ride over the ravine, then a three kilometer walk up flat stone steps. If you have good knees and are relatively fit, you can get up to the citadel and through in a bit over an hour. If you have bad knees, you can also take a horse up to the base of the citadel. If you want to walk all the way up and have bad knees… it can take two hours. There are many rest stops and nice views along the way, but it is an uphill walk. All the way.
A nice thing about Kuelap is that due to its cultural designation, there are scaffolds and walkways all over so that the cultural heritage won’t get rubbed away by visitors. You can’t even sit down.
But, at the base at the end of the cable car ride, where you buy your tickets, is a cafe, a museum, souvenirs, and lots of walls at just the right height for sitting on. The cafe may have one of the best views around but they don’t seem to advertise that.
There are many things to see in the Chachapoyas area including the famous Gocta Falls, but more about that another time.
If you want to be enchanted for a an hour or so, visit Los Tres Ojos, early on a Sunday morning. Then only the touts and tour guides will harass you on the surface.
Once you get down into the caves, it will just be you, a turtle, bats, fish, and lots of humidity. Pay the ferryman for the barge ride and enjoy the hidden world on the other side. With the entrance fee (up top) and the ferryman, it’s a cheap hour’s distraction. I think it was 100 pesos and 25 for the ride (2 bucks and 50 cents). Los Tres Ojos is located right off a major highway in Santo Domingo, and ten minute drive from colonial part of town.
There are a lot of stairs…
Having “done” this by 11 a.m., I felt quite good about going out to lunch before taking an epic siesta.
Having been to many tourist destinations, I often think about the theater that goes on for my benefit. Nowhere is it more apparent than in places where the “natives” dress up in tradition costume for tourists. I don’t have any deep thoughts about this but it’s just something I notice. And makes me think of words like “experiential” and “interactive” — nothing deeper than that.
These thoughts occur to me quite a bit when I look through my photos. One place where it was evident was in the Amazon when we were transported for a “visit to an indigenous village” I felt this most acutely. No one lived in the village as the “natives” all lived in Iquitos and commuted to work every day in the village. They looked suitably poker faced and bored. I suppose they didn’t dream of being actors. Or maybe they want to show that their culture was one of seriousness… This makes me wonder about humor in native societies. I never see anything about humor in museums. I would imagine that most societies have a sense of humor.Wot wot?
I doubt that this beautiful lady’s life is some romanticized imagining, but, she certainly didn’t need to smile or even tolerate me. She could have told me to eff off. Instead, she put up with my lens.
Learning a new language (and culture) is both fun, and sometimes, funny. The general assumption about Spanish is that you can put an “o” on the end of the wordo (see, like that) and that this “o” will make it Spanish. Lots of the words are the indeed the same or similar in English and Spanish. These are called cognates. An example is dictionary: diccionario. Looks the same, must be the same. But, how easily one can land, mouth on foot! Here are some other words and phrases that can make for sticky or embarrassing situations (does my quick doodle better illustrate the point?).
“embarrazado” = to be a pregnant man (the “o” means that you are a man). To be embarrassed is “avergonzado” which makes me think about modern journalism being “gonzo”…
“las esposas” = the wives or handcuffs (useful if you are talking about two or more wives or handcuffs). Perhaps somehow related to “ball and chain?”
Also, today is “martes trece” or “Tuesday the 13th” which is the equivalent to “Friday the Thirteenth” — a day of bad luck, a day not to leave your house, not to start a new business, etc. in Spanish-speaking countries. Perhaps a day to stay indoors looking up funny cognates online. I am taking note of these as I go along, so if I get them wrong, please comment! I look forward to trying to avoid too many encounters of foot in mouth once I get to Colombia.
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.
Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):
When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…
Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).
Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):
“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.
Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.
Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.
Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.
— Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)
Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.
Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.
Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.
New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.
BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.
On another day:
Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”
Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.
Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).
Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.
Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.
Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!
If you want to know how the celebrities feel, come to Bangladesh. As a foreigner, you will have your photo taken almost all the time. At any wedding, any meeting, any corner of the street. If the big city types in Dhaka are not interested in taking your photo, you can go a few kilometers away from Gulshan and get ready for your “kodak moment.”
My experience with photography in Bangladesh has been non-aggressive. But, there will be many photos. I also take many photos of them, so I guess it’s only fair. In a country of 160 million people, there seem to be 160 million cell phone cameras. The photos on this blog posting are from the Gabtoli cattle market where our group of foreigners almost pulled a greater crowd than the cattle.